December 22, 2010

Thoughts from the Atacama.

I was told something the other day that I thought was put so eloquently that I feel I have to share it.

It came from Roberto, 23-years old, whose family ran the hostel where I stayed in San Pedro de la Atacama, Chile.

He said that he thinks everything is equal; houses, nature, humans, animals, but they are all just at different times- different points in their relationship to earth and their influence over it.

The idea itself is relatively simple, but coming from Roberto gave it more merit. He’s seen first hand the fluctuations in these “times” that nature and beings are granted on earth. He understands their limitedness.

As a member of the Atacameño indigenous people, for example, he knows how quickly times of power changes between humans. Like nearly all indigenous groups in Latin America, the Atacameños are becoming extinct. Initially their demise was because of their Spanish conquerors, but has since been intensified by a general disinterest by their government in maintaining their culture. Roberto himself, proud of his Atacameño heritage, can barely speak his native language.

And Roberto not only knows how times of power shift between human groups. He has also seen the effect of this power on the natural world.

Living his whole life in the Atacama Desert, Roberto sees nature flourish in its own time. The Atacama is the driest desert on earth and is nearly inhospitable to live in, leaving much of its beautiful nature untouched by human influence.
But, the area is also rich in copper, a resource that Chileans were quick to exploit. Just a few hours from San Pedro, outside of the town of Calama, is the world’s largest copper mine.

Roberto has seen the extremes. He’s seen how one groups “time”, their chance to reign, can quickly end. He’s seen the power of nature’s severity and power, but also how human determination often still overwhelms it.

But if he’s right, and everything is equal then the “times” will once again shift. Humans have not always been on earth, and we certainly have not always had the technology we do now to manipulate it. Our time to have dominion over the earth and its beings will eventually run out. And the question remains: when we look back, will we be satisfied with how we spent it?

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